Democrats Attack Iraq Strategy

By William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 30, 2005; 4:39 PM

Democratic lawmakers charged today that President Bush has failed to set forth a coherent strategy to win the war in Iraq and called for the establishment of measurable benchmarks for progress so that U.S. troops can be gradually withdrawn.

The Democratic criticism came in response to a presidential speech at the U.S. Naval Academy today and the release of a new 35-page White House document entitled, "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq." In the speech, Bush denounced critics who he said want "an artificial timetable" for drawing down the nearly 160,000 U.S. troops now in Iraq. Bush said that "setting an artificial deadline to withdraw" would send a message that America is "weak" and "unreliable," would signal enemies in Iraq to wait out the United States and would "vindicate terrorist tactics of beheading and mass murder."

In a Capitol Hill news conference, Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) and Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) said they were disappointed by Bush's plan, which they said fell short on specifics and ignored basic realities in Iraq.

"The president," Reed said, "failed to answer the question that all Americans are asking: how do we know progress is being made there?"

Kerry accused Bush of resorting to "straw man" arguments in denouncing his critics' calls for a drawdown of U.S. forces.

"This debate is not about an artificial date for withdrawal," Kerry said. He said a Nov. 15 Senate resolution, which called on the administration to hasten an eventual U.S. pullout by turning over more control to Iraqis, did not advocate "an artificial date for withdrawal" but sought to "set an estimated timetable for success which will permit the withdrawal of our troops." The resolution, which passed 79 to 19, said 2006 should be "a period of significant transition to full Iraqi sovereignty," creating conditions for "the phased redeployment of United States forces from Iraq."

"No one has ever suggested or believes that we should run in the face of car bombers or assassins," Kerry said, referring to a passage in Bush's speech. "No one is talking about running in the face of a challenge. We're talking about how to win, how to succeed, how do you best achieve our goals? That's the choice here. And what the president did not do today again is acknowledge the fundamental reality of the insurgency."

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) called the resolution two weeks ago "a vote of no confidence in the president's current policy in Iraq" and said Bush in response today merely "recycled his tired rhetoric of 'stay the course.'"

In a statement, Reid said, "After nearly 1,000 days of war in Iraq, our troops, their families, and the American people deserve more than just a Bush-Cheney public relations campaign. They deserve a clear strategy with military, economic and political measures to be met in order to successfully complete our mission. The president's continued refusal to provide that plan does nothing to support our troops or their families. Simply staying the course is no longer an option, we must change the course."

The top Democrat in the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi of California, today threw her support behind a proposal by Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) for a prompt pullout of U.S. troops from Iraq. Murtha, a former Marine with a reputation as a hawk on military issues, stunned Washington two weeks ago when he said U.S. troops have done all they can in Iraq and should be withdrawn within six months.

"We should follow the lead of Congressman John Murtha, who has put forth a plan to make America safer, to make our military stronger, and to make Iraq more stable," Pelosi said in a news conference.

She also sharply criticized Bush's speech, dismissing the "Plan for Victory" slogan that appeared behind him today as "no more accurate than the 'Mission Accomplished' backdrop he used two and a half years ago on the USS Abraham Lincoln."


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